Labor Prep: Exercises That Can Help You Get Ready for Labor
When you think about it, having a baby is one of the most physically demanding experiences you will ever go through. I mean, sure, some people will argue that it's “natural” and it's something that women should know how to do instinctively, but on the other hand, let's be real: natural or not, giving birth is freaking hard work.
And there are very few physically demanding experiences in our lives that we go into without some kind of preparation. If we want to run a marathon, we train for months for it. If we want to go to the Olympics, we train for years for it. If we want to learn to lift heavy weights, we exercise to prepare our muscles. But when it comes to giving birth, very few of us actually prepare physically for it. We might mistakenly think that because it's “natural,” there's no real reason, or way, to prepare physically for labor.
But the truth is, the uterus is a muscle and it will be working hard to get that baby out of your body. Contractions are work, labor is work, and pushing is real, physical work. It might just be one of the hardest workouts your body will ever go through, so it only makes sense that you would want to do everything you could to prepare for it.
So, which exercises can help you with labor prep?
The pelvic tilt is similar to the “cat/cow” stretch that you may have seen used before in yoga classes or videos. You kneel and place your hands on the floor, directly under your shoulders, then scoop in your stomach as far as you can while your back curves upwards. Next, instead of releasing all of your breath and letting your tummy hang out, return back to a neutral position, so your stomach stays in line with your neck. This move can help strengthen and stretch the abdominal muscles needed for birth without putting excess pressure on them.
Love 'em or hate 'em, they are here to stay. Kegel exercises help strengthen your pelvic floor, which is especially at risk for damage during the last trimesters of your pregnancy as the pressure of your growing baby presses down on your pelvic floor. To perform a Kegel, tighten the muscles “down there” like you're stopping yourself from urinating and hold for 10 seconds, then release, and repeat. You can also help strengthen the pelvic floor through whole-body movements by keeping your core actively engaged anytime you get up from a position that has you lying down or on your side. You want to make sure you never “jerk” yourself up, as that can damage your abdominals that are already stretched far apart.
Think of squatting as the ultimate labor prep move. I mean, what did women do back in the cavewoman days to give birth? You had better believe they dropped a squat like it was hot because it's the fastest and most effective way to open up that birth canal and help get your baby out. You can help your body “learn” what it needs to do during labor by performing gentle squats during your entire pregnancy. Just remember, there's really no need to go all out and start squatting heavy weight, especially at the end of your pregnancy. The weight of your body is plenty weight enough. Use a wall to help support you as you near the end of your pregnancy; just stand by the wall, then “slide” down until your butt is parallel with your knees and hold. Then, gently stand up.
Along with physically preparing your body for labor, it's also important to mentally prepare. I highly recommend that you practice some yoga during your pregnancy because yoga teaches you to breathe through the discomfort of difficult moves and that's exactly a skill that will come in handy for the hard work of labor!